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Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

Just the other day I was talking with my brother Dr Jim and my sister Kay. We like to conference call between the Minnie Apple and the Big Apple and now the Music City. Dr Jim told us, in cleaning out a closet, he’d found the original book titled “101 Poems” that the Flapper used to read to them while they were doing chores around the house, after our Father died. There was no TV or internet, the radio was it for entertainment; that, and the human voice.

I told them how I’d recite “The Owl and The Pussycat” for the Love Bug and her brother while they climbed into a box and pretend to sail off to sea in a ‘beautiful pea green boat!’ They would look at me with wonder as the lilting, melodious words tripped off my tongue from some region in my brain that has to be reptilian. I must have loved that poem as a child, and I can imagine the Flapper after our car accident, lying on a couch with her legs post-surgery straight out in front of her, reading it to me over and over again.

Today I awoke to the memory of yesterday, to all the emotions of another terrorist act on our soil, at a country music concert. And because the gun man is white, without an apparent motive, gun nuts would like to chalk this one up to mental illness. But maybe, just maybe, this time our Congress might see through the lies of an NRA lobby, and have some bit of courage they couldn’t summon after Sandy Hook. There is NO need for our citizens to carry assault weapons that can spray death from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort. NONE.

For my morning meditation I turned to poetry. Like music, words always help me cope with the unimaginable. And I found this couplet from a 1961 poem by Philip Larkin, “Ambulances”:

Sense the solving emptiness

That lies just under all we do,

And for a second get it whole

So permanent and blank and true.

If poetry is your prescription for pain, you may enjoy an anthology by William Sieghart of 56 different poems, an Rx to help process the curve balls life can throw our way titled  “The Poetry Pharmacy.” He actually tells the reader which poem to read for which ailment – anxiety or the loss of a loved one? Or do you just need to get motivated? Maybe you’re approaching the end of life, and you wonder what it’s all about…Alfie.  http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170927-the-words-that-can-make-us-calmer

Thoughts and prayers just don’t do it for me. I’d rather read a poem and then call Congress!

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Happy Fourth of July! Maybe you’re planning a trip to a beach, if you’re not in NJ. Maybe you’re going to a park for some grilling, if you’re not in the middle of moving. Or maybe you just want to stay home, because driving on the Fourth is the last thing on my mind.

My family’s Year of Living Dangerously didn’t start on this holiday, but you might say it ended in July, 1949. The Flapper was just emerging from the fog of grief; we had buried our Father in April. She had been reading about the new airport opening in Wilkes-Barre, PA, so she called up a friend and asked if he wanted to go for a ride. My brother Mike didn’t want to go, but my sister Kay and my other brother Jim piled into the back seat.

I was only ten months old, Nana held me close when the drunk driver plowed our car’s engine through the chassis and into the Flapper’s legs.

I have no real memory of 1949. But I do remember a swinging Dutch door in our Scranton, PA kitchen. And I remember my First Holy Communion at a farmhouse on Lake Wallenpaupack – which was named by the Lenape, “The Stream of Swift and Slow Water.”

In her later years, the Flapper lived on Lake Minnetonka, MN, very close to both of my brothers. Every July Fourth Mike would throw a barbeque, and Kay would fly out to spend the holiday with the family. I didn’t go very often because Bob was always working; it seems that an Emergency Department with its new influx of summer residents is extremely busy with fireworks mishaps and drunk drivers. I liked staying home, alone. I can’t tell you how many severed fingers have accompanied his patients, or how many motor vehicle accidents involving alcohol happened on the Fourth.

But I can tell you that today I won’t be alone. Bob and I will slather on the sunscreen and attend our last Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello, the speaker should be interesting:

David N. Saperstein, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom and prominent Reform rabbi, will be the featured speaker, addressing new citizens from around the world. https://www.monticello.org/site/visit/events/july-4th-monticello

And even though I didn’t vote for our President, I will cry patriotic tears when all those immigrants raise their hands to pledge allegiance to these United States of America. I always do. Tyranny can’t triumph, we are still free to speak our mind even if our press is denied access to this White House. Democracy is the law of the land and Monticello was, in large part, its birthplace.

Love Trumps Hate. Happy Independence Day everyone!  IMG_0830

 

 

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Happy First Day of Spring! We are in the middle of a self-inflicted March Madness (sorry Blue Devils), pruning and sprucing up the yard while simultaneously cleaning out closets. Bob gets to ride around on his tractor while I get to tackle my clothes. And since I’m not afraid to ask for help, this year I’ve called in a professional. The Bride gave me the idea; in the past, she would sit among my shoes and ask, “How many pairs of red shoes do you need Mom?” A few weeks ago, my daughter suggested I try hiring someone who does this sort of thing for a living. Not a psychologist/clutter counselor per se, but a stylist.

A stylist? Moi? She said she has friends in Nashville who rave about this service. And here I thought you had to be a celebrity to hire a stylist, I never even had a personal shopper. Or a Stitch Fix account for that matter…and then I thought, wait, why not? It’s true I can write in my nightgown, but hey, we are on the move! Looking for a beach house, traveling to France, moving closer to our Grandbabies, if only I had thought of this before the Rocker’s wedding! Remember, one of my first articles for the “Berkshire Eagle” was titled, “Fashion Police.” 

I wrote about moving from New Jersey to New England, trying to fit in with the natives. The paper actually hired models to illustrate my three styles of dressing – 1) the Native wore jeans, flannel and work boots; they were very early adopters of the uni-sex grunge look; 2) the Tourists were New Yorkers who came for the weekend or the summer and wore mostly Black to Tanglewood; and then you had the rest of us. I was a 3) Transplant, we had moved to Pittsfield from all over the country, we didn’t even own a pair of jeans, and didn’t have a style of our own. Hey, it was the 80s.

Obviously, it was a semi-satirical essay!

Moving to Virginia wasn’t too traumatic. We built our small house, pared down our lives. I was wearing jeans again, and I’d discovered Eileen Fisher. She is a designer who spoke my language, ethically sourced clothes in natural fibers, her designs are the epitome of easy elegance. Stevie Nix meets Helen Mirren! This old Catholic School girl was close to finally finding her own style. At least once a year I’d meet Anita for lunch in Richmond and get my Nordstrom/Eileen Fisher fix.

I knew I was on the right track when I found Andrea Wood, a “Personal Stylist and Wardrobe Consultant.”  www.andreawoodstyling.com  She doesn’t just help you clean out your closets, she looks at your clothes with a professional’s eye. The first thing I had to do was answer a questionnaire, then she had me make a special Pinterest page. I already had an old page called “Fashionish,” which tells you how I felt about my clothes. But now, I was having fun on our last snow day of the year looking for something new. I titled this page, “Style Mavens!” https://www.pinterest.com/mpjamma/style-mavens/

As soon as she walked in the door, I knew Andrea had my number. We talked a little over tea and then we got to work. The first thing I asked her was, “How many pairs of khaki pants does one need?” She zipped through my walk-in closet in no time, pulling out things she thought were outdated, or just didn’t look like “ME.” How did she know me so well? We made a special spot for “Vintage,” and another for Caribbean vacations. I no longer needed Black-Tie event dresses, and besides these heavily sequined silk numbers had seen a moth, or two. And also I’ll never see size 6 again.

It was such a relief this closet cleanse. Andrea told me she didn’t really think I needed much help putting outfits together (thank you dear), although we did do some mixing and matching. She piled all my old clothes in her car and was going to donate some and start a consignment account for me at a local shop with the others. I looked around and took a deep breath. I’d found things I forgot I had, clothes I never could find because I couldn’t move the hangers, beautiful blouses and pants that fit! She was a miracle worker, and she inspired me to keep going.

Sweaters were next. I posted a picture of the first sweater I ever knit on Facebook. I was trying to finish it in England and wore it through the metal detector in Heathrow with a stitch holder in my neck. That set off all the alarms and prompted my first full body search at an airport. I paired it in the 80s with a long, flowy skirt and Goth boots. I wanted to crowd source the question, “Keep or Donate?” Ms Cait, my new Daughter-in-Law, loved it and so I’ll be shipping it to LA pronto.

We all deserve our own “What Not to Wear” consultation at least once in our lives. My old friend and clutter counselor Betsy didn’t live around the block anymore. Anyone going through a transition – selling a house, losing weight, spring cleaning or just plain suffering from FOTO the dreaded Fear of Throwing Out – could benefit from a kind, professional helping hand. This coming weekend is the VA Book Festival, and now I can look less like a conflicted writer in yoga pants, and more like a confident writer in casual chic street wear! Thanks Andrea! 

This is the “Before” picture she wanted. Notice how clothes are barely able to breathe? Final pictures coming soon!  IMG_0172

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Let’s take a break from the sturm and drang of politics shall we? Do people ask you where you would most like to live if you had nothing else to consider in the world? Let’s just say you won the Lottery and you have no grandchildren. No ties to any coast at all. Which is not my case, but this is a hypothetical.

Well this week I’ve been reminded of my favorite place because our dear friends came from the Berkshires for a visit. When the Bride was little, we would pack up our cars and take the ferry from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard for a whole month every Spring. Lee is probably my bestest friend, a wild and wonderful woman! She was an Ass’t DA when we first met, at a ballet class, and then opened a private practice in family law. She went to the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, so we would kid around and say we went to different schools together.

At the Rocker’s Bris in August of 1984, she singlehandedly filled my living room with tall, glorious gladiolas!

Her husband Al is retired and Lee is starting to think about retirement too, though she is a bit younger. And they were smart years ago to buy an investment property in Vineyard Haven; although we always rented a cottage on the wild side of Gay Head, a place that dropped off red clay cliffs to a rocky shore and held center stage in my dreams for many years.

This is the place where I imprinted ruggedly beautiful seascapes and rambling rose bushes on the Bride’s baby brain. We would dig up clams on Menemsha Pond in Chilmark and eat them slathered in butter. Lee would bake bread every morning, then we would visit the fish market to plan our dinner. We would ride on the historic Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, an old and established Black community on the island. The Bride would reach to catch the brass ring, and our dogs would want to jump up and catch it too.

We flew on clam shell roads with the wind in our hair, our bikes with fat tires, taking showers outside that could never entirely wash away the sand.

So yes, there is no other place I love more than The Vineyard! And our President is taking his last vacay there as Commander in Chief.

On the island, Mr. Obama is expected to play a lot of golf and read a pile of books, if his past vacations here are any guide. He may attend a party or two given by friends who also vacation here, but for the most part the Obamas tend to keep to themselves. Mr. Obama is an avid sports fan, and with the Olympics playing on TV, he may have even more reason to remain in his rented house. After so many years of having the president and his family as summer guests, residents here have lost much of the excitement they once showed for presidential visits. The island is a haven for moguls and movie stars, and the Obamas have become part of the scenery.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/us/politics/obama-arrives-in-marthas-vineyard-for-two-week-vacation.html?_r=0

I’m sure he can relax this August, knowing the lead Madame Secretary has secured in the race to the White House; knowing his legacy will be assured. Jobs numbers are good, the market seems to be progressing. Maybe he will play some golf and eat a few lobster rolls? Walk into town for some ice cream?

Sometimes I would run into Carly Simon in town and pretend I didn’t know who she was…because that’s what people did before cell phones and selfies. I hope people leave the Obamas alone. I hope they can actually find a little peace on this island paradise. I’d like to turn off all the political punditry for the next few months.

Cause I haven’t got time for the pain…  this was us in 1981. Menemsha Family 20160808

 

 

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Good Morning folks. Sorry for sleeping in but I’ve been exhausted lately, how about you? I once thought that by marrying into the Jewish faith I’d get out of all the Christmas hubub. But as my psychologist brother Dr Jim reminded me, I should feel lucky since I have two holidays to celebrate!

That was the story of my young life; one birthday party in NJ, then over the Delaware Water Gap we would go to another birthday party with my birth family in PA. To Nell’s credit, she did make it seem like having two Christmases, and two birthdays was really special. Double the fun. Later, I realized it was the Flapper’s way of keeping me in her life.

So my question of the morning is, “Do you ever feel like you are overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time in the day?” Have three people invited you to their holiday parties on the same night, and you just learned your child volunteered your cookies for the Christmas party at church the next morning? It’s no wonder psychologists say depression shoots up this time of year – we are on a treadmill of presumed happiness. Just to help you out, I give you another Ada Yiddishism:

Mit ain toches kent mir nicht zizen af tsen uriden

This is one of my favorites, and if you’re from the NY area you might recognize one word, pronounced “Toockes.” Loosely translated it means,

“With one behind you can’t sit on ten toilets!”

Stellar right?! This little saying hits so many of our buttons: the need to please; the desire to be perfect; wanting to avoid conflict. Or just plain needing to be cloned so we can sail through this joyful season. Oy Vey! But what if you take a deep, cleansing breath, and think about just one toilet – maybe it’s a fancy new one where you wave your hand to flush and the seat is always down? I love it.

My other little trick that Bob taught me is, I don’t have to apologize…or go into long, lengthy explanations about why I can’t do something like volunteer to clean up after the school’s holiday party, or corral the Kindergarten kids before the Tree Lighting in town, or well you name it. He once told me that men do NOT do this! Men will just say, “No,” and they might add, “Scheduling conflict.” Practice this phrase ladies – “No. scheduling conflict.” The more you say it, the easier it gets!

As for me, I’ve discovered the wonder of online shopping this year. Don’t judge me readers. At least Hannukah is early which is actually helpful, it forces you to multi-task. And anyone who knows me knows I’m purely a one-task-at-a-time girl. Anyway, this month is all about the kids, right?Turning them into little, civilized mensches despite and amidst crass commercialization. But I have faith, as long as I have a toilet nearby.

Here I am going to only one wedding as the Flower Girl. Even though I had three older sisters, only one was married during my gypsy years between NJ and PA. Thankfully. IMG_3502

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What do you do to mourn? In the past, I’ve been known to bake a cake, a carrot cake. I also bake this cake to celebrate, so it’s an equal opportunity toasted coconut frosted masterpiece, if i do say so myself. I was taught early on by Ada, never send flowers, always bring food to the bereaved. I remember when Bob’s brother Dickie died, we called it the “never-ending fruit salad” since we received so many fruit baskets.

But after suffering through three miscarriages in one year, I felt compelled to de-clutter my life. If my own body wouldn’t cooperate, well then at least I could control something. I’m sure this has a psychological term, but I didn’t ask Dr Jim. I stripped away dead leaves on indoor plants, I scoured kitchen drawers for duplicate utensils. Normally housework wouldn’t interest me, but I became a regular housfrau.

Lately, I’ve been prone to prune more than plants. After downsizing to our Blue Ridge home, we had left some things undone. Beginning with Bob’s surgery I felt the need to pair down our possessions. To actually open those boxes in the basement that made it through two moves without being opened. Before the Paris massacre, we began to tackle our cluttered “unfinished” basement; this weekend we finished it.

We found some amazing things. Academic awards from the Rocker’s school days. The fairy tale I wrote for the Bride’s sorority.

Once upon a time, an ex-hippie ER doc married a feminist writer, a New Englander at heart, and a princess was born on Windsor Mountain. The baby had eyes as black as coal and skin as white as alabaster. A spring fed pond was the setting for her first foray into the wild…

I found the portfolios of both my adult children. The ancient ice-packing-sling-thing  Bob used after his shoulder surgery years ago showed up amid gear Bob used to keep in his plane’s hanger. The Piper Arrow that is missing his touch. The basement was functioning as a garage/archive of our life, but it was drowning in stuff!

Now we can breathe a little easier. This weekend our cousin in Richmond will be called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. I will remember to be thankful we live in a country where police do not guard the doors of every synagogue. I remember when the Bride tried to enter a Temple in Paris for the High Holidays 15 years ago, and she was surrounded by police, they questioned her to see if she was really Jewish. She was tall and blonde, ‘she didn’t “look” Jewish.

They made her recite a prayer in Hebrew.

Is this what we must do with every Syrian refugee, interrogate every single one? Shall we make them wear a sign pinned to their sleeve that tells us who they are?

Jess Bob Tour Eiffel 20151117

 

 

 

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